Wednesday, October 24, 2007

William S. Green, Esq.

There were so many things I didn't know about Mr. Green. I didn't know he interrupted Harvard Law School to fight in the Pacific as a Marine in WWII. I didn't know he was the first Deputy Attorney General of NH. I didn't know he went to the same high school I did.

Mr. Green died on Monday after living with Parkinson's for a long time. I'm not sure there's a more cruel disease. Unlike with Alzheimer's, the person who has Parkinson's is all too aware of what's happening.

I loved Mr. Green and he knew it. I treasure my memory of one of our last visits: we held hands and looked at each other, smiling. I just can't imagine him as a Marine Corps Major! But that's what makes people so fascinating and wonderful, they can always surprise you. And if you're very lucky, they make your world a better place. Thanks Mr. Green.

William S. Green was 89 and I will miss him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Every year at this time Mark and I check out The Chestnut Tree. Three years ago we stumbled upon the tree and a bumper crop (I'm not telling where, so save your breath) but the last two years have been disappointing. This year we found seven (not good). That's how it goes with foraging: sometimes it's feast, sometimes it's famine.

So when my friend Lisa said her father had sent a surplus of chestnuts and asked if I'd like some, I leaped at the chance. Visions of chestnut soup, chestnut pudding, candied chestnuts danced in my head. Those visions did NOT include wriggling maggots on my kitchen counter.

Surprise! When I opened the box, I stroked the warm, brown surfaces of the nuts. So pretty, so smooth. Then, underneath the chestnuts, something moved. A pulsating, 1/4 inch long, white maggot with a brown head. And another. And another. Not so pretty.

Never one to be deterred by a little additional protein, I tossed the hole-y nuts and their resident maggots, assuming the remainder of the chestnuts were sound. Wrong. A few days later there were more maggots than I cared to count. A quick email to Lisa confirmed that her nuts were also entirely yucky. And she had already eaten a few!

Lisa warned her dad and we've all learned a lesson. A lesson I'm going to share with you:

Once upon a time there was a chestnut weevil (a kind of beetle). It lived in the ground during winter and emerged in early summer. It flew around and around, and being a female weevil, in the fall it drilled a hole (with its super-long proboscis) through the nut's burr (the spiky outer covering) and into the nut meat. Then it laid eggs in the hole. 10 days later the eggs hatched and larvae developed. When the nut fell to the ground each maggot chewed a hole to escape the nut and dig into the ground. They overwintered there for one or two winters before emerging, pupating, and beginning the cycle all over again.

It's a happy story (for the weevil), but you can destroy that insect happiness by simply picking up chestnuts as soon as they fall. If the larvae don't have a chance to dig into the ground, they can't develop into beetles, can't lay eggs, can't turn into chestnut-eating-maggots. You'll need to do this for 3-4 years to make a real difference. Of course you could just spray in spring, when the adult weevils emerge, but interrupting the life cycle is a pesticide-free way of controlling the insect.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I'm feeling slightly more charitable towards WV this morning. After a hideous (but free) "continental" breakfast I asked at the front desk about how to get to the three places I wanted to see: Taylor Books (largest independent book store in WV), Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream (no explanation necessary) and the Farmers' Market (ditto). When the woman told me they weren't really within walking distance I realized we had different concepts of what walking distance is. (Michael says that for most people, walking distance is the distance across a WalMart parking lot.)

Off I went, undeterred, and as soon as I hit Capitol Street I breathed a sigh of relief. Small streets, nice architecture, trees. Taylor Books had a great vibe plus free wifi and coffee. None of my books were on the shelves, but I told myself that's because they're all over at the Book Festival, waiting for me to sign them at the Taylor Books booth!

Stepping into the Farmers' Market felt like coming home. Just being around the squashes and apples made me forget about the concrete and red mulch back at the Holiday Inn Express. And as I walked past Frog Creek Books a title caught my eye: Bootstraps and Biscuits. The subtitle (300 wonderful wild food recipes from the hills of West Virginia) says it all. It'll make good plane reading later this afternoon, although I may skip the skunk recipes.

Last stop: Ellen's Homemade Ice Cream (no web site). Sadly, I arrived 15 minutes before they opened so I couldn't try the ice cream, but I was able to convince the very friendly young woman setting up that I truly needed two t-shirts, since my name is Ellen and since I'm flying out directly after my presentation and won't have a chance to come back. Thank you, friendly young woman.

Now I'm heading over to the civic center, for my presentation on small space gardening: No Space? No Problem! I hope I have a good crowd.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Almost heaven?

I don't think so.

This is the view from the window of my room at the Holiday Inn Express in Charleston, WV. It's certainly close to the Civic Center, where I'll be speaking tomorrow afternoon at the WV Book Festival. But it's not exactly what John Denver led me to expect.

As I flew into Yeager airport (named after Chuck!) the hills looked lovely: rolling and green, criss-crossed with hiking trails and dirt roads. I thought how nice it would be to get out into the woods and do some foraging. Sadly there won't be time for that, since I fly back to PA tomorrow. All I can do is look around downtown Charleston, which is anything but scenic.

I'm sure I'll enjoy some southern hospitality tomorrow, but for now I'm surrounded by red mulch

and you know how that makes me feel!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

miniature orchids aka just plain plants

It's been a long time since I wrote about just plain plants. Now there are probably a lot of people who don't think miniature orchids are just plain plants. But these little beauties are no harder to grow than an African violet so don't let fear of the unknown keep you away. (That's not to say there aren't some fussy orchids out there, but these two are eminently do-able.)

Pleurothallis allenii (native to the mountains of Panama) blooms several times a year, putting out 5 or 6 flowers at a time. It's called a free-flowering orchid because it blooms year round. Most orchids bloom only once or twice a year at set times. Flowers of P. allenii are maroon, finely etched w/yellow edges. At an inch from top to bottom, these are plus-size minis. But don't feel bad girls, you're still beautiful.

Haraella retrocalla
puts out one flower at a time, but it's so pretty you hardly feel cheated, plus it's wicked fragrant. (It's old name was H. odorata.) The lip of the orchid mimics a female bee, luring male bees in for a fruitless coupling. Well fruitless for the bees.

Both orchids live in a terrarium in the sunniest room of my house. It gets light from the South, East, and West and I water the orchids about once a month. Even with this benign neglect these plants never let me down. No, better than that. They delight me every time.

P. allenii is from J&L Orchids in CT. This nursery specializes in miniatures and is chock full of tiny wonders. I feel like a kid in a candy store when I roam the greenhouses.

H. retrocalla is from Oak Hill Gardens in IL. I've never been, but they sell at the New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show in March.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Dinner for One

Michael stayed in the city this weekend for the Audio Engineers' Society convention. Poor Michael. It's been a classic fall day with sunshine, glorious foliage, and the smell of hay-scented ferns filling the air.

When I'm by myself I usually eat simply. I'll make a quiche to last the whole weekend or open a jar of home made ratatouille. But today was the last Barryville Farmers Market and I decided to celebrate.

First, I opened a bottle of turnip wine. What? That doesn't sound delicious to you? Trust me, it doesn't taste like turnip. I made it last fall because I had way too many turnips, and I'm not crazy about the taste so I didn't want to eat them. Even though the wine is still young, I thought I should taste it now to see if it was worth making again this year. It is.

Inspired by my home brew, I roasted quail (from Penny, the egg and poultry lady) with olive oil, pepper, garlic, and sage. Five minutes before the end I added a glaze of my tomato-ginger-lemon preserve. With the quail I served (myself) acorn squash with maple syrup and butter, and a salad of fresh arugula (from the potato man), homegrown tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella.

And the pièce de résistance...plum torte, my favorite fall dessert. The recipe is from the NY Times and couldn't be simpler:

Cream 1 stick unsalted butter w/1 cup sugar.
Add 1 cup self-rising flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour + 1 tsp. baking powder), a pinch of salt, and 2 eggs. This makes a very thick batter. Spoon it into a 9" spring form pan, spreading the batter out to the edges.
Slice plums in half, remove the pits, and place them cut side down, one next to the other around the edge of the pan. Fill in the center with as many more plums as you can fit.
Sprinkle with lemon juice, cinnamon, and sugar, and bake at 350 F for 50-60 minutes.

You can't go wrong. And there's no better way to use the last plums of the season. Bye-bye Barryville Farmers Market. See you in the spring.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Chicks and geese and ducks better scurry

I’m in Oklahoma City at the annual Garden Writers’ Symposium. So far it’s been interesting, but more for the people I’ve met and spoken with than for the gardens I’ve seen.

I’m sure there are wonderful, personal gardens here. (I know for a fact that I missed two yesterday. Drat!) But most of the gardens we’ve visited have been impersonal spaces that give you no feeling for the people who live in them. They were designed by a large landscape company and are devoid of individual personality.

Imagine my delight this morning, when after seeing 5 soulless landscapes, we arrived at the home of Kamala Gamble and Lance Cornman, owners of Kam’s Kookery. Kam catered our box lunches two days in a row and our very tasty dinner last night (mmm…buffalo ribs…). She’s also a founder of the Slow Food movement here in OKC and her garden overflows with heart and soul.

This is a garden where vegetables and ornamentals intermingle. Is the Jerusalem artichoke a pretty daisy or a native plant with a tasty root? Both! And while I freely admit okra is a vegetable first, it’s a darned attractive vegetable, especially when it’s in flower.

Why shouldn’t our landscapes be beautiful AND delicious? Why not feed the eyes, the heart, and the stomach all at the same time? In this garden, even the plants that were clearly food (healthy rows of kale, arugula, and mizuna) looked beautiful, and the dedicated ornamentals (morning glories and zinnias) were over-the-top exuberant. This is a place that delights the senses with bright colors, textures, scents, and tastes. I know something about the people who live here.

As a professional gardener, I’m clearly not suggesting everyone do their own gardening. (Why would I talk myself out of a job?) But if it’s your garden, let it reflect your personality. It’s not a parking lot or the entrance to a bank. It’s you. Show me what you’ve got.